I will finally fully reveal myself as the hidden prankster at Marquette’s School of Dentistry, from 1990-94. I always had to be careful, because the deans & faculty who ran the school were largely out to get me. But they didn’t catch me. If you know GnR, you know the rest…
I was living with Matt, my 3-year roomie, in a 2nd floor, two bedroom, shared bathroom apartment on the corner of 20th & Wells. Tough neighborhood, and a long cold walk in the winter. It was still early fall when Matt was telling me about his day around the engineering building, and so forth. He had obtained a roll of orange special stickers, and was tagging the campus with them.
We’re both having a beer, and a few laughs, so I asked for a few and he tore off a nice roll for me. As a first-year dental student (D1), you quickly learn that the dental school is your new ‘home way from home.’ We’re always there, Mon-Fri from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and then often after– for lab work or whatever. It’s all serious from the start when they tell you, “Look to the person on your left, and then the right. One of you won’t graduate in 4 years.”
That makes it cut-throat among the students, especially those who want coveted residencies such as oral surgery or orthodontics. Student loans only add to the pressure. I quickly discovered that I wasn’t going to be a top-GPA dental student. I just wanted to keep the academic scholarship I had earned, and get through.
There is a lot of favoritism in dental school, and it sorts itself out early. For instance, we had a dental prodigy who could wax-up a tooth so beautifully that he was offered the Marquette prosthodontics residency (highly coveted) within a month. He accepted, and sailed through dental school. Now, he’s a world class prosthodontist in Miami.
We had a talented class, for sure. I don’t even have to include myself for that to be true. Talent reveals itself early, and after a few weeks everyone pretty much knew where they fit in with this hierarchy. I had a lot of support from classmates, and we were a generally supportive group, but there are always rats, snitches & gunners in professional school.
I was living on the edge, as the ruling faculty didn’t like me, and there were plenty of rats willing to endear themselves to power by snitching on me. Student government is where these types tend to exist, as it gives them liaison power with faculty, and hides their mediocrity. I was always the biggest enemy of mediocrity, and was made a target because I refused to conform.
Professional schools try to break you. If you don’t obey, they punish you– one way or another. That pressure can be enough to prevent a student from getting their diploma. It’s easier to conform. It gets you through, but the long-term costs are significant. It’s a character thing in my mind.
All this & more, is why I was really excited to start plastering Marquette’s dental school with orange special stickers. I was going to kick ass, have some laughs, and get away with it. A dental school is a busy building with around 350 students, plus faculty, administrative personnel, and so forth. No witnesses is rule number one in tagging. Since it’s so busy, I determine that it’s best to place a limited number of strategically placed stickers, versus carpet bombing. In the evening it’s quieter, and that’s mostly when to strike.
The lecture room we sit in, hours on end all week, gets a sticker on the face of the lecture rostrum. So as Dr. Austin goes on & on about cranial nerves & other gross anatomy, everyone sees that bright orange sticker. I think that’s hilarious. To our left, up on the wall, is the clock that shows the time– and to the left of that is an orange special sticker. People get bored, look at the clock, and are thinking to themselves, “Wow, that must be a tall person placing those stickers. I’ve been seeing quite a few of them…”
We had several vending machines in the student lounge, located in the basement bowels of the dental school. I’m referencing the old Marquette dental school on 16th, off Wisconsin. I made sure the milk machine always had a special. Also the snacks machine, which featured such salty delights as cheddar cheese Combos & Gardetto’s pretzel mixes were constantly on special.
Soon, I noticed the stickers started disappearing almost as fast as I could put them up. Someone who is serious and has power doesn’t like this. “Be careful,” I kept saying to myself. This could get me kicked out. One of my favorite gags was the ‘Special Patients’ clinic sign in the basement. I got that one– twice. The second time, I went back a few minutes later, and the sticker was already gone. BE CAREFUL– LOL!!!
I’d look forward to getting back to my crappy apartment in the evening, and telling Matt what was going on. He’d be cracking up, and then say, “I’m getting another beer, you want one…?” Yeah, sure….
This went on for a few weeks. Another classic gag I came up with was tagging the inside elevator door. I’m inside alone, anytime. When the door opens the sticker disappears. As people go in, I get out, and when the door closes everyone inside sees how special they are. Matt LOVED that one, and adopted it in the engineering building.
One day we’re in lecture, and the blackboard the doctor wants to write on is covered up by the projector screen. He pulls up the screen, and BANG, there’s an orange special sticker on the blackboard! He picks up the chalk to write and there it is. He kinda glances sideways at it, and then moves over to his right to start there instead. I’m sitting next to a very pretty girl named Stephanie, who was really cool and I was sweet on. She sees this and half-whispers, “What is up with those stickers? I’m seeing them EVERYWHERE!” I’m trying to control my internal laughter, while looking at her & wanting to ravish her.
At this point, it had become a student-liaison/faculty issue. The uptight nerds were getting very restless, and the faculty wanted this stopped immediately. It’s Friday at lunch, and we’re all in the lounge. I’ve decided to give myself up, but only to a good woman. Stephanie is to my left, talking whatever with her friends, so I interrupt to ask to see he notes for reference. As I said, she’s cool, so she passes her binder over, and doesn’t look back at me. I pretend to be poring over them, and make sure no one else is looking, while I place an orange special sticker in a blank space by her notes a few pages earlier. Then I fold everything up, and give it back to her. I knew Stephanie always reviewed her notes before going out to meet us on Fridays.
Around 6:00 PM, I walk into the Ardmore bar, and Stephanie is arguing loudly with two of our buddies– Vijay & Tim. One of the tallest dental students is our class president, Randy. Randy was a muscle-bound dork who thought he was funny, and was always trying to goof in front of the class. His act wore thin, and by this time he was sitting with the geeks up front. Many of these folks were openly accusing Randy of being the prankster. Vijay & Tim were convinced it’s Randy too. Stephanie is standing there– 100% sure it is not. “How do you know?!” Tim & Vijay are exclaiming as I approach. I play it straight and ask, “What are you talking about?”
Vijay & Tim face me, and blurt out what Stephanie has told them, and say, “It’s Randy, right?” I’m just looking at Stephanie, who isn’t in love with me (I now know), who is ready to explode with laughter. She points straight at me. and exclaims, “It’s Ric!” Vijay & Tim look puzzled, as their jaws hit the floor. I smile to all three of them, then shrug my shoulders and say, “Surprise.”
Lots of laughter after that… Vijay is Indian-Canadian, and my best friend in dental school. He keeps feeding me beers to get the full story, and is just shaking his head. Then Cele comes in, and wants to know what’s up… Cele is Philippine-American, and went to Madison for his undergraduate. He’s cool, and is one of us. Cele loves gossip, and now he knows. I had to make sure he didn’t pass it on too freely, otherwise I’m caught in the danger zone. He didn’t, to his credit.
By next Monday morning, most of our group knew, but no one else. The heat was boiling over by that point. Randy was beside himself, hands in the air, insisting he didn’t do it before the first lecture. There were more than a few nags who were reading him the riot act, when in exasperation, Randy looked towards us for help. and he called out, “Come on, will someone say I didn’t do this? Everyone is accusing me here…”
I’m seated on the opposite side of the room, with Stephanie to my right. I look dead into his eyes, and firmly say, “Well I guess this is what you get for being the class clown?” Randy looks back for a second, and then collapses in defeat. Stephanie is head down, hiding behind her gorgeous hair, quivering in laughter. She whispers softly to me, “You… are … so… bad.”
And that’s it. The last time I visited that building was in 2002, and in the back stairwell on an ‘Exit’ sign remained an orange special sticker. I had to jump down the stairs to tag that one. You can’t reach it with a ladder, because the stairs are directly below it. A janitor tried to get it, but only ripped it down the middle. Someone up high, badly wanted it gone. All I can say is that if the sign is still there, then the sticker is too.
The one that got away (and there’s always one, right?), was when the grades for the semester were being posted. On the first floor there’s a glass cabinet, where the top-5 GPA’s in each class (D1-D4) were listed each semester. It was a great honor to be on that list, and I was never close to it– until the day I was walking by it from the Science Library. I saw it wide open, with the keys still in it. The grades were posted, but the janitor had presumably left to run an errand….
I’ve got my right hand in pocket, peeling the orange special sticker off inside. I’m going to place it next to our class, and when it’s locked under glass, everyone will see & know just how special the Class of 1994 is. Just as I’m about to pull it out, a secretary comes down the stairs and up the hall. I stroll by and duck into the student lounge for a minute, then go back up, but the case was locked up by then. I still wonder sometimes, if it was the one that got away, or it was the one that would have given me away?
Campus Phone gag: There was a time in Marquette dental school (D2, D3) when we had to be in the Science Library a lot. I’m a stairs person, but on this day I took the elevator from the first floor of the dental school to the 4th floor, which spills into the Science Library. The Science Library elevator had an emergency phone with no listed number. As I’m going up, it rings, so I opened the box and pick it up. It’s some girl on campus trying to reach her friend. I tell her it’s the wrong number, and then ask for the number she dialed. She tells me, and I jot it down.
The elevator opens, I see my friends sitting at a table together and go over to join them. I do whatever I have to do, and then I’m waiting. It’s Vijay, Stephanie, Cele, and maybe a few others. Cele was usually the first to end his studies, and go do something else, and that’s what happened. Cele packed up his stuff, and said goodbye. He’s heading towards the elevator, when I say to the rest, “I’m gonna get Cele back here right away,” and get up to use the campus phone behind me. Someone says, “Cele just left, you can catch him if you hurry.” I reply, “No, I”m going to call him.”
This was around 1992, before cell phones truly existed. I dial up the number, and my buddies are ignoring me like I’m nuts. It rings once and Cele answers, “Hello?” Without missing a beat I say, “Hey Cele, it’s Ric. I just wanted to tell you what a great guy you are, and how I appreciate our friendship, it means a lot to me.” Then I hang up.
Thirty seconds later, Cele comes busting out of the Science Library elevator. “How did you get that number?!” Everyone else is wondering what’s going on, and I can’t stop laughing. But when I do, I explain the situation to everyone, and give Cele the number. He’s now excited to prank someone, but I explain it has to be the right person. Some people won’t pick up the phone.
Soon enough Stacey, a semi-friendly, brown-nose type moves towards the elevator, and I alert Cele. As the doors close, Cele dials the number, and Stacey picks it up. It went something like this. Stacey: “Hello.” Cele replies: “Hey Stacey, it’s Cele. How are you doing?” Stacey: “I’m fine. Why are you calling me here?!” Lots more laughter after that, until it’s time for me to go. I then tell Cele I’m taking the stairs, so don’t even think about calling me in the elevator.